The primary aim for the Indian Armed Forces to meet challenges posed by practices of modern warfare includes an ambitious transition to a Theatre Command structure. The main goal of the Theaterisation plan is to enhance logistical cooperation and synergy between the tri-services (Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force).

The plan will see the establishment of integrated military commands to meet security challenges posed by India’s nefarious neighbours such as Pakistan and China. India, since the inception of Pakistan in 1947 has seen four engagements with the adversary in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Furthermore, Pakistan is actively engaged in waging a proxy war against India through the Kashmir valley. Although not widely known in the public domain, India’s military doctrine called ‘Cold Start’ aims to counter Pakistan in case of another war.

What Is The ‘Cold Start’ Military Doctrine?

The Cold Start military doctrine mainly deals with various branches of the Indian Armed Forces functioning as unified battlegroups to conduct offensive operations against Pakistan. The doctrine is supposed to enable Indian forces to conduct holding attacks against the adversary and prevent a nuclear retaliation in such a case.

As per the promulgation of the doctrine, offensive operations by the Indian Armed Forces could begin within 48 hours following orders. The accomplishment of such a limited response time is set to enable Indian forces to launch a surprise attack against their Pakistani counterparts. The doctrine seemingly draws lessons from India’s Blitzkrieg strategy which was utilized in the 1971 Indo-Pak war to encircle Dhaka and force the surrender of up to 93,000 Pakistani troops in East Pakistan (Bangladesh).

Cold Start is meant to employ swiftness in achieving the set military objectives and will involve operations spearheaded by armoured units, as per reports. Reports also suggest that such operations will be launched from forward positions in Rajasthan and Punjab and involve significant air support elements.

Roots of The ‘Cold Start’ Doctrine

The roots of India’s Cold Start military doctrine lie in the aftermath of the 2001 Parliament attack following which India initiated a full military mobilization to take on Pakistan, the preparator of the attack. However, the long duration of time elapsed in achieving the mobilization demonstrated the need for India to change its strategy in face of such challenges. The slow mobilization resulted in a build-up of sufficient international pressure which prevented India from conducting a retaliatory strike.

Despite initial denial by Indian military commanders and officials over the existence of such a military doctrine, General Bipin Rawat in January 2017 acknowledged the existence of Cold Start military doctrine. Moreover, military exercises undertaken by the Indian military in the past have certainly hinted towards the possibility of implementation of the doctrine.

A defence exercise called Operation Vijayee Bhava undertaken by the Indian Armed Forces in 2011 was considered a validation of the Cold Start military doctrine by many defence analysts. The operation involved up to 50,000 troops and was conducted in Rajasthan’s Suratgarh and Bikaner and aimed to increase synergy between various armed forces branches. In contrast to Operation Parakram of the 2001-2002 India-Pakistan standoff under which the Indian military took 27 days to mobilize troops, Operation Vijayee Bhava successfully reduced the mobilization duration drastically to 48 hours.

What Is Theaterization's Link To ‘Cold Start’?

As per the mandate to raise Theatre Commands, each such Command will have units of the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. These units of the tri-services will work as a single entity dealing with security challenges in a specified geographical area under an operational commander.

A Theater Commander will bear all resources at his disposal from the tri-services and will be enabled to utilize such resources with harmonious efficacy. The 1999 Kargil conflict prompted Indian tri-services to launch separate operations to meet the same objective- pushing Pakistan’s military out of Indian territory and sustaining the ground. Indian Army launched Operation Vijay while the Indian Air Force launched Operation Safed Sagar. However, it may be noted that the Indian Navy’s Operation Talwar was focused on Pakistani trade channels and cut its supply lines via the sea route. In the aftermath of the conflict, the Kargil review committee recommended the creation of joint theatre commands.

As Theaterisation will enable military commanders to effectively utilize a cohesive fighting force capable of achieving the designated charter in the shortest possible duration, India’s Cold Start military doctrine will significantly benefit from the development counter threats posed by Pakistan.

Meanwhile, India has had a fair share of engagements against China’s PLA. In the recent past, the two sides had locked horns in 2017 amid the Doklam stand-off. Tensions with China flared again in June 2020 following the Galwan-valley clash. Keeping the current geopolitical situation in consideration, India’s pursuit of ramping-up of its border security and strengthening its military might is achievable through the Theaterisation program.